Saturday, August 17, 2013


Hybrid electric aircraft utilizing more airports could be a transportation choice of tomorrow.
Somehow I can't imagine being stuffed into a windowless capsule and shot down a tube at close to the speed of sound.
Hyperloop would need stops along the way. I can't imagine how station stops between cities would work. I can see how capsules could leave the tube; a "Y" in the tube perhaps. But how do they get back in? Would capsules somehow merge into a 700 mph traffic flow of capsules? It's hard enough to slip a 60 mph car into flowing traffic on a freeway.
For speedy, non-stop trips each city pair would need its own two pipes, to and from. The heavily populated U.S. East Coast would have a plumbing nightmare on it hands.
So far Elon Musk has done great job of bringing a top rate electric car to the market, sending rockets into space and sending money across the Internet, but Mr. Musk: Don't push too hard on this Hyperloop thing. We all make mistakes.
At it's core Hyperloop is really about introducing a new mode of greener, low-cost and faster transportation. True, something is needed. But before we attempt to build something outlandish, maybe we should take another look at a form of transportation that, as of January 1,2014, will be 100 years old: The scheduled airline.
(The first scheduled airline in the U.S. was operated by the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line (SPT Airboat Line) and flew between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida on an across-the-bay trip in a two passenger Benoist air boat that lasted about 20 minutes. The airline made two round trips a day, six days a week. After 1205 passengers, four months time, but no crashes, the company shut down.)
Maybe air transportation needs a total remodeling, a major do-over, with the eye on making money and transporting more people by air to more destinations.
To begin with, high fuel prices are here to stay. Fuel costs are the thorn in the airline's side. Airplanes are cheap compared with the cost of fuel to power them. Airlines spend at least one third of their operating costs on fuel. Conventional gas turbines, those jet engines hanging from the wings, are powerful, smooth and reliable, but they are also fuel guzzlers. Maybe its time to jettison them.
There are options already in the wings, as it were:
Siemens, EADS and Diamond Aircraft have been working on a hybrid propulsion system for a number a years. The integrated system uses a small, lightweight Wankel engine to generate electric power for a drive motor. After an all-electric, quiet take off, the plane's battery pack is recharged in flight by the Wankel (like in some Mazdas). The fuel savings: 25 percent. The technology, now flying a light plane, can be scaled to aircraft carrying as many as 100 passengers. The partners' goal is to introduce hybrid drive systems into helicopters, small planes, and commercial passenger aircraft. Type certification in the general aviation category is three to five years away.
Another project dubbed eConcept from EADS and jet engine maker Rolls Royce, uses a single gas turbine installed within the fuselage to generate electricity. They call the system E-thrust because multiple propulsion engines are electric.
NASA and Boeing are working on a hybrid they call SUGAR Volt that would save as much as 70 percent on fuel using a combination of batteries, electric propulsion, gas turbines and much better aerodynamics than used today. Replaceable, modular, batteries are integrated into the fuselage behind fairings. The extra-long wings allow short take-offs and slow soft landings, but can be folded if they get in the way of ground operations. Think 15 years – minimum – if the Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research concept is proven, airworthy and economical.
NASA has also just launched a new Strategic Vision for aviation with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden saying, "Nearly every aircraft flying and air traffic management system now in use includes NASA-supported technologies that improve efficiency and safety. This new vision will expand on that by fully integrating into aviation advances in other industries and parts of the economy to meet the future demands for global mobility in ways we can only begin to imagine today." According to NASA, "the new vision addresses key drivers that are expected to change the face of aviation during the next 20 to 40 years. Those drivers include significant growth in planet-wide demand for air mobility, mounting concerns related to climate and energy, and the convergence of technologies ranging from new materials to embedded sensors to ubiquitous networking."
SUGAR Volt: Boeing's Hybrid Electric Aircraft
More people take to the skies from more places.
But with more people flying where would they all fly from? Increasingly congested airports? No, from smaller airports closer to home, those that aren't utilized today for commercial service.
According to the 2011-2015 National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS), released by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there were over 19,700 airports in the U.S. Of these, 5,170 airports are open to the general public with 503 airports offering commercial service. The majority of public airports – 2,829 – are designated as reliever or general aviation airports versus commercial service.
Those nearly 3000 airports could be upgraded to cater to passenger service increasing the number of commercial airports by a factor of 6.
Close to home air service would make it easier and more efficient to fly while bringing new business opportunities to smaller communities. The State of Alaska could be a model for study for the rest of the nation. Often, in the 49th state, the only way to get from Point A to Point B is by air.
Combine, cleaner, cheaper to operate hybrid aircraft with the utilization of nearly 3000 airports and you'd have a new kind of transportation without building a myriad of people carrying tubes around the country.